Southern Agenda

As Cool as Ice

An illustration of a beaver studying a tree and a bird with a notebad in its hand

Illustration: Tim Bower

Finzel Swamp in western Maryland is frozen in time—literally. The 326-acre preserve is a “frost pocket” left over from Pleistocene-era cold weather. “When the Ice Age glaciers retreated, everything moved north,” explains Deborah Landau, the director of ecological management at the Nature Conservancy’s Maryland/D.C. chapter, which protects the property. “But due to its unique geology and location between two mountains that trap cold air, we still have some species that you’d associate with Alaska or Canada.” Red spruces dot the area; so do tamarack trees. Eastern red-spotted newts float the shallow waters, and in early spring, black-and-yellow spotted salamanders migrate to breeding ponds. In the early evening, whip-poor-wills sing. Threaded with a main trail and boardwalks, Finzel welcomes the public (Landau recommends a four-wheel drive in the winter), and visitors might spot alder flycatchers, a beaver lodge near the end of the trail, or mink playing on the ice. “But stand quietly, and you can hear the swamp itself,” Landau says. “Even when everything looks frozen, trickling water is moving through—Finzel is the headwaters of the Savage River.”